by Jo Carol Hebert
It is night on the African dry savanna grasslands. Crouching low, moving silently through the dim forest, the leopard stalks a deer. Suddenly, she leaps twenty feet forward and pounces on her prey!
Massive paws and deadly claws grab the helpless creature by the throat. Quickly, the deer is lifeless. But, the leopard has a meal to sustain life for herself and her three cubs for another day. After feeding, she will drag the remains of the carcass up a tree to keep it from scavengers.
The Big Cat
All cats have common cat-like traits, from your adorable tabby to the most ferocious lion. They are mammals (they give birth to offspring that look like the parents and the mother nurses the babies).
They are carnivores and need meat to sustain their strong muscles. These nocturnal predators hunt by stalking their prey and attack by ambush rather than a long chase. They have retractable claws (except the cheetah).
That’s One “Cool” Big Cat!
Did you know these animal athletes can curl up, stretch, twist, roll, and jump vertically up to ten feet? They also shed fur in the heat and grow fur in the winter. They have keen hearing, triangular ears, and whiskers. Big cats can even purr, growl, hiss, yowl, and some can roar. These cats are graceful, exotic, and mysterious, too!
The Versatile Leopard
Scientists call the leopard, “Panthera.” The name leopard comes from two Greek words: leon, meaning lion, and pard, meaning panther. Leopards are native to and most populous in the savannas and grasslands of Africa.
These leopards are lighter in color than their cousins in Asia. Asian leopards range through a variety of habitats, including tropical deserts, rain forests, and swamplands, and variable temperatures.
The African leopard is 4-6 feet long, with a tail that extends another 3.5 to 4.5 feet. They have large heads with a flat broad nose, Weighing 80-200 pounds, they can run 35 miles an hour. Deer, rodents, fish, monkeys, or anything “meaty” will do for a meal.
Leopards live 10-12 years in the wild, preferring a solitary life rather than group interaction. They mark their personal territories by eliminating body wastes in the area. Spot patterns of black, tan, and yellow, called rosettes, distinguish the leopard and camouflage them into their environment.
Every leopard has unique rosette markings according to their habitat. A cheetah has rosettes, but a cheetah is not a leopard. The jaguars in South/Central America have rosettes, but they are not leopards.
We Are Losing Our Leopards!
The earth is being depleted of leopards due to the following reasons:
- Loss of habitat, due to deforestation for timber, farmland, homelands, and industries
- Loss of habitat decreases the carnivore leopard’s prey opportunities
- Poachers illegally kill for the fur and medicine trade
- Ranchers kill leopards that prey on livestock
- Trophy hunters kill leopards to put on display
Hope for the Future? Seeing Spots!
And so, we end our upfront and personal tour of the magnificent leopards of the world. Now, we know them as beautiful animals, contributing to the balance of life in their particular habitats. We know them as individuals – animals that are each one unique in markings and behavior. And we know them as being in danger of disappearing from the face of the earth in the wild. And, we also know that if that happens, something of the quality of our own lives will be missing, too.
What do you think about that? Tell us in the comments section!
Categories: Big Cats